Tag Archives: Mainichi Film Award

My Neighbor Totoro (1988 Movie)

Studio Ghibli

My rating: 5 of 5

Satsuki, her father,  and her little sister Mei move to an old, slightly decrepit house in the country to be closer to the hospital where their mother is being treated. It’s a big change, but it’s also an adventure, and both girls are delighted, especially when they find the house is inhabited by soot sprites–tiny spirits that the adults can’t even see. Even better, Mei encounters a large, friendly spirit calling himself “Totoro” during her explorations while Satsuki is at school. (Satsuki’s a tiny bit jealous about that.) But one rainy evening when the girls go out to meet their father’s bus, Satsuki gets to meet Totoro as well! It seems that not only are their new neighbors glad to welcome the family to the area; the forest spirits are as well. Good thing, too, because it will take everyone’s help when Mei goes missing.

My Neighbor Totoro is one of those movies that never gets old and that has something for everyone. My two-year-old niece adores it, and my dad does too. It’s a wonderful story for many diverse reasons. Just as a start, the animation and the music are wonderful. Joe Hisaishi has some of the most interesting and beautiful film scores out there, and the score for this movie is no exception. And yes, the art isn’t always as detailed in some scenes as the modern CG stuff that’s created today, but the form, the details that the artists choose to capture, and the overall flavor of the place and time that is evoked is absolutely stunning. The characterizations of the children–everything from the art to the scripts to all the tiny details–is incredibly captivating and believable. Satsuki is the quintessential big sister trying to hold it all together and mother her little sister while still being just a kid and worried about her mom’s health herself. And Mei is so full of whimsy and imagination and childish impulses and mannerisms. I love the way in which the culture and community of a rice-farming community in late 1950’s Japan is presented, too, with all sorts of details. And the way in which the wonders of the spirits and traditional beliefs and fantasy are all woven in is just lovely and charming. In short, My Neighbor Totoro is a sweet, lovely animated movie that I would highly recommend to basically anyone of any age.

Note: I watched the 2005 English dub for this movie. It’s excellent.

Written and Directed by Hayao Miyazaki/Produced by Toru Hara/Music by Joe Hisaishi/Starring Dakota Fanning, Elle Fanning, Tim Daly, Lea Salonga, & Frank Welker



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Summer Wars

Madhouse Studio

Written & Directed by Mamoru Hosoda/Screenplay by Satoko Okudera/Produced by Nozomu Takahashi, Takuya Ito, Takashi Watanabe, & Yuichiro Saito/Music by Akihiko Matsumoto

Kenji Koiso is your average teenager, sort of–socially inept, mathematically brilliant, a good student . . . and a part-timer for OZ, an online community that has become so important and popular that nearly every facet of life ties in to it in some way. When the lovely Natsuki Shinohara offers him a part-time job over the summer, he jumps at the chance to earn a little extra cash (not to mention being around such a fun, attractive senpai for the summer). Finding out that the job is playing her fiancé though is a bit much . . . especially considering the magnitude and intricacy of the Shinohara family tree! One thing follows another, and Kenji finds himself framed for letting loose a monster AI program into OZ where it is taking over user accounts and wrecking havoc across the world. Which is when Kenji finds out that whatever differences the Shinoharas may have with each other, when it comes down to it, they’re the sort to set those differences aside and find a solution, no matter what it takes.

I really enjoyed watching Summer Wars, and I’m excited to have discovered Studio Madhouse–I’ll probably check out their other work in the near future. The most immediately outstanding feature of this movie is the animation: it’s beautiful, lush, and lifelike in the “real-world” parts, and the virtual reality sections are eye-catching and imaginative in the extreme. But Summer Wars isn’t just a bunch of pretty pictures, there’s some quality story writing going on there too. The writing, acting, and illustrating all combine to create a vivid blend of science fiction and ordinary family life–I love both parts, and they work well together. I think what I love best though is the depiction of such a large family, all drawn together to celebrate the matriarch’s birthday, yet every individual distinct and sometimes at odds with the others. It seems like a very realistic picture of family–positive, but not dreamy-eyed and unlikely. I would definitely recommend Summer Wars; it’s a delightful, engaging movie.


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